Philadelphia-area Catholics offer nuanced views on Obama birth-control stance

President Obama's health-insurance directive on birth control coverage was indicative of a much bigger problem.
President Obama's health-insurance directive on birth control coverage was indicative of a much bigger problem. (SUSAN WALSH / Associated Press)
Posted: February 13, 2012

A number of Catholics attending Sunday Mass in the Philadelphia area said they backed their church's stance against President Obama's contraceptive mandate - even in its revised form - but how strongly they felt seemed to depend on their age.

"It's against the Catholic [teachings]," Barbara Kashon, 66, said of birth control while leaving St. Patrick's Church off Rittenhouse Square. "I've grown up that way."

But her daughter, Kim Kashon, in her 30s, who was holding her own child in her arms, looked at her mother with astonishment and said: "Really? You don't think people should wear condoms or use birth control?"

Whatever their differences on birth control, both Kashon women - like many Catholics - expressed the basic view that the Catholic Church should not be forced to do something against its core beliefs.

Traditional Catholic teachings hold that sex is for procreation and that anything that would impede a pregnancy is not right.

Under the White House's new plan, announced Friday, charities and universities with religious affiliations would not be required to provide insurance plans that cover birth control.

But the insurers that administer those plans would be required to provide contraception services at no charge to employees of those institutions who request them.

Critics of the president's plan call it a threat to religious liberty.

"It's a crock! It's a way to get around it," Margaret Johnson, 68, said outside Sacred Heart Church in Clifton Heights. "I'm very pro-life."

But she was not "totally against contraception."

Johnson said people who take jobs with a Catholic institution should know the church opposes birth control and should not expect birth-control coverage.

"I have to pay extra for my dental," which is not covered under her insurance, Johnson said. "I'll equate it to that."

Some older women at the parish were simply opposed to the idea of preventing pregnancies.

"I don't believe in birth control; it's considered a sin," said Rose Marie Dee, 83, of Clifton Heights.

The mother of a son, Dee said she never used contraceptives and always wished she had had more children.

Dee, who voted for Obama in 2008, is considering voting for Republican Rick Santorum, a Catholic, who she said had taken a more vocal pro-life stance than other candidates.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has led the opposition to the Obama plan, said in a statement Friday the solution the White House offered to quell a political furor was "unacceptable and must be corrected" because it still infringed on the religious liberty and conscience of Catholics.

In a Sunday editorial, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput criticized Obama's revision.

"We'll cooperate with anyone in service to the common good, so long as we are not forced to compromise our religious beliefs," Chaput wrote. "But the HHS mandate, including its latest variant, is belligerent, unnecessary, and deeply offensive to the content of Catholic belief."

To some younger Catholics born after the development of the pill but raised with conservative Catholic values, the debate is disconcerting.

"This is where I get conflicted," Lisa Penn, 48, of Radnor, said after being asked whether she thought women who worked for Catholic institutions should have access to birth control.

Penn, a Republican raised Catholic, struggled to put her thoughts into words.

"I still don't believe the church should be forced - when you work for the Catholic Church, you sign up knowing that is one of their fundamental views," she said finally.

Contact staff writer Claudia Vargas at 856-779-3917,, or @InqCVargas on Twitter.

This article contains information from the New York Times News Service.

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